Heroin is well-known as a highly addictive and potentially lethal drug. As the opioid crisis peaks in the United States and abroad, heroin has seen a deadly resurgence in popularity. Heroin can be injected, smoked, or sniffed (snorted), and it is sometimes mixed with cocaine in a dangerous concoction known as a “speedball.” Heroin is rarely pure, as dealers mix it with household solvents, starch, powdered milk, or other materials that can be lethal when injected or ingested.1
Heroin and its cousin-drugs, opioid painkillers, create changes in the brain that lead to both physical and emotional addiction. Opioid drug addiction is best overcome with the help of a treatment team because withdrawal can be painful and lead to quick relapse. Those who have an addiction to heroin need the support of a treatment team that understands what that person is experiencing. With the right treatment, it is possible to leave heroin behind for good.
“I have everything that I wish I would have had when I was using, but today I have so much more in recovery, says Tyler A, at Heroes in Recovery. “At first, heroin promised me a lot and recovery didn’t promise me anything. Once I started working the steps, though, I didn’t want to stop. …Today, I’m ecstatic about life. I never thought I would be happy to be alive. I do everything I possibly can to make sure my daughter does not have to worry about her dad getting high.”
Born in a Laboratory
Heroin gets its kick from a natural ingredient found inside the poppy plant. The white substance that oozes out of the seed pods of the poppy plant can be intoxicating, but the producers of heroin tweak and alter this substance in order to make it both portable and more powerful. Heroin dealers heat up the goo and combine it with other chemicals and agents until they’ve produced a product they think will sell in the marketplace.
At the end of the production process, heroin may look like a sticky, black brick or like a white or brown pile of sand. These substances can be smoked or inhaled, and the effect on the body can be almost instantaneous. Heroin hijacks the brain’s receptors by hitting hard and delivering a punch that’s hard to ignore. As heroin takes over brain receptors, it also destroys them. Those who use heroin are rarely able to match the feeling of their original high and risk their lives chasing the feeling of the original high.
The human brain quickly adjusts to opioid drugs, and those who use it require to take bigger doses in order to feel the same sense of release. In the end, they may never feel the same overwhelming sensation. Instead, they may feel just ill and sad, angry, or ill between doses, and they may need heroin in order to behave in a natural manner and stave off sickness. It’s a physical dependence that can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms when people try to heal.
Moving Through Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal is only occasionally life-threatening, but it can be dangerous without medical supervision or assistance.2 The physical signs associated with heroin withdrawal can be uncomfortable and can include:
- Nausea and abdominal cramping
- Sore, jumpy muscles
- Flu-like illness
People who go through this process feel physical distress, but the emotional discomfort they face could be even more severe. With each pang of pain, their brain cells call out for heroin as a solution. The craving for drugs can be intense and difficult to control. Many people who try to quit heroin without help risk the danger of a deadly relapse.
Medications can be vital during this process, as they can soothe physical signs of distress while allowing deep cravings to fade. Sometimes, people who have access to proper replacement medications feel restored enough to resist direct temptation.3
The decision to use medication assistance is unique to each person and should be decided after working closely with an addiction treatment program. While some people do not wish to use medication during withdrawal, some find that it can be helpful. In some cases, individuals feel symptoms of withdrawal when assistive medication is removed, and the old cravings may return. Clients like this might need to either avoid medication-assisted therapy or stay on replacement medications for months, or even years, so they don’t relapse to heroin use.
Other Therapies for Heroin Recovery
While medications can be helpful for some people, it’s important to note that not everyone with a heroin addiction needs replacement drugs. We work with each patient to develop a personalized plan of recovery that is firmly rooted in the latest scientific research combined with the unique wishes of the person in recovery.
In the end, whether people use medications or not, they will be provided with other forms of treatment that help them recover. There are a variety of different addiction therapies available, and they all work just a little bit differently. Some focus on skill-building, allowing people to soothe triggers that might lead to heroin abuse. Instead of using the drug to relax and forget a bad day, for example, they might learn how to meditate or exercise. These activities can make them feel just a little better, with no drugs involved.
Some therapies allow people to process prior trauma, so they can work through their emotions without drowning them in substance use. Our family program also helps people repair relationships with their families, so they’ll communicate more effectively and recognize unhealthy patterns more efficiently.
Support groups also play a role in the healing process for some people with heroin addictions. These programs may be directed by a treatment professional during residential treatment, and help build:
- Communication skills
- Role models
- Mentorship opportunities
- Sober friends
- Lessons on addiction
People can go to meetings in their community as long as they’d like to do so, and some keep going for the rest of life. Many people even find that a solid support group helps more than medication management of symptoms.4
Heroin Recovery Begins Today
It’s relatively easy for family members to read about the heroin recovery process and decide that it’s the right path for someone they love. It can be hard, however, for someone with a heroin addiction to make the decision to change. Some people with addictions might claim that they don’t even have a problem and that they can quit their use of substances at any point, without any complications at all. Some families overcome denial like this by holding a formal intervention conversation in which they outline all of the addiction-related problems they’ve seen and the ways in which therapy might help. Our treatment professionals and wide-ranging referral network can help you get started on an effective family intervention for someone you love.
Living with someone addicted to heroin can certainly be lonely, but know that you’re not alone. At Black Bear Lodge, we’d like to help. Call us, and we can explore available heroin addiction treatment options and come up with a plan that is right for you and your family. We can work with your insurance company to make sure the care you need is paid for, and we can set up an intake appointment for the person you love, so heroin addiction treatment can get started right away. Call to learn more at 706-914-2327.
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Heroin. Jul 2017. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
2 U.S. National Library of Medicine. Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. 20 Apr 2016. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
3 Volkow, N.; Frieden, T.; Hyde,P.; Cha, S. Medication-Assisted Therapies- Tackling the Opioid-Overdose Epidemic. The New England Journal of Medicine. 29 May 2014. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
4 Gilman, S.; Galanter, M.; Deratis, H. Marc Galanter. Methadone Anonymous: A 12-Step Program for Methadone Maintained Heroin Addicts. Substance Abuse. 2001 Dec. Vol 22, Issue 4, P 247-256.Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.